Plain as Dirt: A garden insider’s best advice for the season |

Plain as Dirt: A garden insider’s best advice for the season

Tom Glass

In two weeks, this valley will experience a surge in demand for garden products overwhelming to garden centers, landscapers and property-management companies. Unfortunately for frost-susceptible alpine gardeners, this surge comes on the heels of the inventory-stripping Memorial Day weekends and will, without exception, affect every plant seller ” including the largest sellers of garden products as well as the smallest one-shovel landscapers.

In order to get the very best prices, selection and service, I’ve set forth the following guidelines to help local gardeners gain the advantages to living here while offering the people who serve us the greatest chances for success. In no particular order, what follows is, to my way of thinking, the best advice I have to offer this time of year.

If you plan to purchase more than a pallet of mulch or more than a few rolls of sod, place an order with your supplier now during the offseason. Always order more than a week before you need these items. Wholesale suppliers delivering these products schedule deliveries well in advance. During peak season, they can’t meet demand ” which is why supplies of these products in this valley typically are limited. In return for your being considerate, consider asking for free delivery or a discount. It never hurts to ask, and I’m sure advance, offseason ordering is a habit mulch movers and sod busters would like to encourage in local customers wielding the potential for repeat business.

Order a pile of manure now. Again, it’s the offseason. Call a local stable and ask if they can part with some well-rotted manure before they get busy entertaining the Suburban wranglers of the high season. If you lack a truck or the will to load and unload a ton of the stuff, act like a contractor and coordinate the job. For a fee, many landscapers will help with loading and delivery.

Plant spruce trees now. Evidence suggests spruces planted in spring have a higher rate of survival because spruces root best in the coming weeks when soil temperatures, soil-moisture levels and the vigor of these evergreens are at their peak.

There is a more obvious reason to schedule planting now. Nearer the Fourth of July, every visiting second-home owner will rightfully insist that their trees be planted before they leave town ” just as the dry season begins. Get the best service and selection now, and you’ll also benefit from greater survival through next winter.

Fertilize spruces and pines now as they are active and about to begin their most vigorous growth phase. You and the trees will derive the greatest benefit from an early feeding. Schedule deep-root fertilization before the offseason ends. If your spruces and pines look dull and lacking in growth, I’m certain you will be amazed by the results.

Inspect those same lackluster trees for scale insects. Look for small, white bumps on the needles and an overabundance of dead needles shed beneath the tree. Confusingly, bristlecone pines naturally exhibit a similar white bump on their needles. You can easily scrape a scale from a bristlecone with little damage to the needle. Scraping off the bump inherent to the bristlecone’s needles causes some damage. However, it may take an expert to determine the difference. Schedule your evergreen trees to be sprayed for scale at the same time they are fertilized. Accomplishing both jobs in one stop could save you money.

Be smart. Ask for proof that the person doing the job is licensed to apply pesticides in Colorado. Do not tolerate shortcuts in procedure. I believe pesticides themselves are not necessarily bad. But I know from extensive experience that how pesticides are implemented determines their value.

There is still time to apply crabgrass control. A good rule of thumb is it’s too late to apply crabgrass control when the lilacs are in bloom. Lilacs are beginning to display flower buds up here, and they are in full bloom down on the Front Range.

Dividing perennials now before they attain full size ” if you can recognize which ones are perennials and not weeds ” will reduce the stresses of transplanting and increase the survival of divisions.

Call your irrigation technician and schedule for your irrigation system to be turned on. Beat the crush of summer people who arrive to an emergency of dried flower beds and parched trees planted in shallow berms.

In an attempt to beat a tiring but trophy nag across the finish line, native trees, shrubs and perennials, once established, require less care than introduced plants. Plant natives instead of hothouse hybrids from elsewhere and you’ll save on irrigation water.

Plant your tomatoes, peppers, and herbs into large containers now to ensure a good, long harvest. Bring them in at night until you can comfortably risk planting them in July in the ground.

To save money and get the best selection, take a day soon to comparison shop our garden centers in order to pick from the best containers and the often short supply of unusual perennials new to this year.

Reserve hanging baskets and containers for pickup in mid-June. Expect to pay a storage and holding fee. It’s only fair. Then, in a couple of weeks,, go back to where you found the best prices or selection, and purchase the bulk of what you plan to plant in the ground. By shopping now, you’ll find the best selection and pricing available before the discounting begins in July. I understand the Front Range wholesale growers are having a good year. After Memorial Day, their best crops will be well thinned-out.

While on your tour, if you want a custom-planted container or a particular variety of plant, order it now. Your designer will have time to order most any plant not in stock, and you will have afforded them the courtesy of the time to do the job right. Take delivery in June.

Be cautious in buying woody ornamentals. Now is the best time to order trees and shrubs or to buy them and have them held. Take delivery after June 15. Most trees and shrubs, and some perennials, if shipped in from elsewhere, are way too far ahead of our delayed season. They may die or be irreparably damaged if they become frosted. Before buying, ask if the woody plants on display were over-wintered here. If not, wait, or have them held without consequence to you until past frost.

Lock down an order for Austrian copper and Persian yellow roses before they bloom riotously orange and yellow in front of Pepi’s deck. What phenomenal roses the Gramshammers introduced to me and the valley. They should get a commission on each sale because they probably generated it.

Most importantly, take the time to chat with the staff at garden centers and gardening-service providers. Everybody appreciates the patient nature of a local. Without question, during this still-early season, it is truly a pleasure to have the time to work with customers. You should enjoy exceptional attention and gain the solid strategies necessary for you to get the products and services you deserve.

Tom Glass writes a weekly gardening column for the Vail Daily. Copyright 2009 by Tom Glass. If you have comments, e-mail

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